Patients deserve better than medical conflicts of interest

In May, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center President Dr. Ronald DiPinho requested that pharmaceutical companies with which he had business and ownership ties be exempted from the University of Texas’s conflict of interest policy.  The companies for which Dr. DiPinho requested exemptions included a company in which he had a $6.7 million ownership share of stock.  This company–Aveo Oncology–had proposed a clinical trial that would be in part run at the M.D Anderson Cancer Center.  Late last week, the University of Texas announced that Dr. DiPinho would be allowed to keep his ties with three pharmaceutical companies, including Aveo Oncology.
There is ample evidence that interactions with pharmaceutical manufacturers and the medical device industry result in physicians making decisions that are not necessarily favorable to patients.  ProPublica’s “Dollar for Docs” series provides an excellent overview of the various ways industry attempts to influence physician practice.
It is increasingly apparent that even accepting gifts from industry can affect patients’ trust in their physicians (as in this article–PDF).  With that in mind, one could imagine that knowing that the director of a major cancer center’s has a $6 million-plus stake in a company that is developing treatments for cancer (and that may try to run trials in that same cancer center) could lead to mistrust or skepticism about the treatment being tested and the cancer center’s motivation for running those trials.  Even though there will apparently be “elaborate, detailed” conditions applied to this research, is that a sufficient step?
We call on physicians to restore integrity and trust to medicine by removing themselves from the influence of the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.  We can show M.D. Anderson how to do things right!